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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Childrens literature, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 646
1. November is Native American Heritage Month!

Cradle Me, written by Debby Slier celebrates Native American families and shows how they carry their babies. It also encourages caregivers to teach children to say the words in their own languages.

“It is impossible for me not to have positive feelings when I look at the faces of babies. Debby Slier's Cradle Me had me happily gazing at the faces of babies from eleven different tribal nations in their cradle boards.” – Debbie Reese (American Indians in Children Literature)

In Loving Me, also written by Debby Slier, babies and toddlers will discover the importance of family relationships through the charming photographs of Native American families.

Cradle Me and Loving Me are available in Navajo English

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2. Laundry Time Turned Reading Time!

It’s always nice when we see our books being shared! Too Small
to Fail, an early literacy initiative of the Clinton Foundation posted a
video that shows children reading Red Socks (by Ellen Mayer,
illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu) and having fun together in an unusual place,
a laundromat! This initiative turns an everyday task such as a trip to
the Laundromat to help lay a strong foundation for lifelong learning
that turns laundry time into reading time. This initiative will equip
5,000 laundromats in communities with resources for families
to engage in language-rich activities. Make sure to check out the video
to learn more! Our fabulous illustrator, Ying-Hwa visited the
laundromat and had a fun time reading Red Socks to children.  

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3. All the college kidlit conferences (as of October 2015)

Or, more formally, “A Comprehensive List of U.S. College- and University-Sponsored or -Hosted Children’s and Young Adult Literature Conferences, Festivals, and Symposia.” (All of them that I could find, anyway). A few years ago, I was looking for such a list, wondered why I couldn’t find one, and decided to just go ahead and make […]

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4. Story Time with Michael Gervais

On October 17th 2015, Green Light Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Brooklyn, NY, hosted an interactive story time with local author Michael Gervais. Gervais read aloud as children listened to his book The Barefoot Champion. In his book, a young boy in Harlem brings home a brand new pair of Nike Black and Red Double Dunks, and is already able to see his future as an NBA star. After the reading, children were able to draw their very own All-star shoes. This book evokes all youthful dreams that were able to be inspired at this event.

Thank you Green Light Bookstore for hosting Michael Gervais’s reading of The Barefoot Champion!

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5. How Constance Anderson’s book Smelling Sunshine supports California’s new law, Right to Dry

In Smelling Sunshine Anderson illustrates how clothes are being hung to dry in the breeze and sunshine around the world and how children everywhere revel in the fun of helping with the laundry.

Yet how many of us know that in many states across the county hanging clothes outside to dry is “illegal”? “Unsightly,” that is one of the reasons it is banned. But things are changing. The Governor of California has signed the bill to prohibit banning drying laundry outside and California becomes a “Right to Dry” state, where the very smell of the sun that inspired Anderson to create Smelling Sunshine.

Although Anderson says she claims no responsibility for the new law, her book, Smelling Sunshine is certainly an inspiration to many people to look at drying laundry differently and reminding them how enjoyable and communal it can be. Let alone saving energy.

We remember when we first received Anderson’s drawings of Smelling Sunshine, how extraordinarily beautiful it was that captures one of the most ordinary chores in our daily life, that is somehow lost in the electronic driven, over developed world we live in while it still exists in much of the world.

Editor of Nolo.com, Bray wrote a nice piece about the new law, quoting Anderson’s heartwarming message. “When we hung laundry together, we slowed down to take in the sights and smells and sounds of the world around us, which brought us closer. Then, at the end of the day, I would pull up the covers and that wonderful smell of the outdoors and its memories, what I call the smell of sunshine, was in the sheets.”
To read a full article of Bray, click here. http://blog.nolo.com

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6. Leonard Marcus – Children’s Literature Interview

I met Leonard Marcus three years ago, shortly after arriving in New York. An author/illustrator friend who gives wonderful kid lit parties in her small New York apartment was gracious enough to invite me to one. Thoroughly new to writing … Continue reading

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7. Papa Gave Me a Stick reviewed by School Library Journal

Papa Gave Me a Stick has received a warm review from School Library Journal. Maria D. Salvadore, a former librarian of the District of Columbia Public Library and a current reviewer for the publication praised the book's illustrations, which "are soft, gently colored, creating a sense of place." She, additionally, mentioned the book's plot, pacing, and useful Spanish glossary as some of the book's other notable facets, all of which contributed to a story that had "the form and cadence of a folktale."

Star Bright Books would like to thank Ms. Salvadore for her kind and thoughtful review.

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8. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland artifacts: [slideshow]

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a children's story that has captivated the world since its publication in the 1860s. The book is celebrated each year on 4th July, which is also known as "Alice's Day", because this is the date that Charles Dodgson (known under the pen name of Lewis Carroll) took 10-year-old Alice Liddell and her sisters on a boating trip in Oxford, and told the story that later evolved into the book that is much-loved across the world.

The post Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland artifacts: [slideshow] appeared first on OUPblog.

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9. It's Almost Here

Are you ready???

What do you plan to learn?

Perhaps some words in a new language:
         Spanish for Beginners by Helen Davies
         This book not only has plenty of words and pictures but an online website to help you with pronunciation. ¡hurra! (Hooray!)

Or maybe off-the-wall baseball trivia:
            Odd Ball by Timothy Tocher
         This comic book provides funny, surprising, and truly unbelievable facts on America’s favorite summer sport.

 Or how to draw monsters:
         Master monster drawing and amaze your family and friends with your spooky artwork! 
Or how to make healthy snacks:
         Holy Guacamole! by Nick Fauchild
         Pass up the sugary snacks for yummy treats you can whip up          yourself.

Or how to write a poem:
         How to Write Poetry by Paul B. Janeczko
         Find lots of tips and techniques that will inspire you to put pen to          paper (and learn about alliteration like in this sentence.)

Or how to write a story:
         Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine
         From beginning to end, this book will help you shape a super story—perhaps even a monster story that you can illustrate!

Whatever you’d like to learn tomorrow—or throughout the summer, remember a good starting place is your local library or bookstore or online sites like For Kids here on my website or at the American Library Associations Great Websites for Kids.  

I’d love to hear about some of the cool stuff you’re learning!

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10. "What Animal" Makes Headlines Once Again!

It was just a few months ago that Star Bright Books had the opportunity to read about Neil Wollman and Abigail Fuller, the writers of the wonderful book What Animal Needs a Wig?, in an article that profiled both the title as well as its inspiration. We were delighted by the fact that someone found our title interesting enough to research and report on it; now, we are even more excited that it has happened for a second time!

In an article featured in the Journal Gazette, a news publication of Northeast Indiana, writer Jamie Duffy highlights not only the title, but also the interesting family dynamic that inspired the husband and wife to write a children's book. Having both worked as professors at Manchester University in Indiana, the dinner table was a place where Abigail and Neil, and their families, could turn knowledge into jokes and riddles. And with a lot of research, organization, and the illustrations of Fuller's sister Fran Fuller Baldwin, these dinner-table conversations became a 48 page, highly entertaining children's books, of which we could not be more proud.

We would like to thank Jamie Duffy for writing this wonderful article, which is available in its entirety here: http://www.journalgazette.net/news/local/schools/Family-finds-humor-in-animal-world-5829554

For the first article featuring What Animal Needs a Wig?, feel free to revisit our earlier blog post: http://starbrightbooks.blogspot.com/2015/01/star-bright-title-makes-headlines.html

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11. Another Exciting Event for Star Bright Books!

Star Bright Books would like to thank the Barnes & Noble of Holmdel, New Jersey for selecting Madison's Patriotic Project, Madison and the Two Wheeler, and Madison and the New Neighbors by Vanita Braver as advertised "Top Picks in Picture Books" (alongside the beloved classic The Giving Tree, nonetheless!). We are very excited that we have had the opportunity to work with Vanita  to share Madison's many thought-provoking adventures with the world, so we are touched to hear that people share our excitement.

Seeing our titles on display was just a small piece of this month's Barnes & Noble excitement, however; in addition to the display, Dr. Vanita Braver, a noted child psychiatrist and author of the "Madison" series, lead a workshop titled "Creating Confident Writers." By examining research-based techniques that enhance the writing process, Dr. Braver provided the audience with several tips and tools for early writing instruction. If the and excited and delighted smiles in the pictures below serve as any indication, the event looks like it was a huge hit!

Once again, Star Bright Books would like to thank the Holmdel Barnes & Noble for hosting this event. We, as well as Dr. Braver, would also like to thank anyone who came out to this event. Your attention, support, and laughs were appreciated by everyone involved.

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12. Do you know your Potter from your Paddington?

The last three decades have seen arguably the most fertile periods in the history of children’s literature, across the field. The phenomenon that is Harry Potter, the rise of YA, and books that tackle difficult subjects for younger readers are just a few examples of the material included in the new edition of The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature by Daniel Hahn.

The post Do you know your Potter from your Paddington? appeared first on OUPblog.

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13. Who is your favourite character from children’s literature?

In order to celebrate the launch of The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature in March, we invited OUP staff to dress up as their favourite characters from children’s books. The result was one surreal day during which our Oxford offices were overrun with children’s literature characters, ranging from the Cat in the Hat to Aslan, from Pippi Longstocking to the Tiger Who Came to Tea, and from Little Red Riding Hood to the Very Hungry Caterpillar. It was a brilliant and brave effort by all those who attended. Particularly those who commuted to and from work in their costumes!

The post Who is your favourite character from children’s literature? appeared first on OUPblog.

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14. Mummy Fun

It turns out that you are never too old to have a birthday--as in a 3,000-year-old birthday!!!

That's right. A mummy at the St. Louis Museum of Art will celebrate his birthday next month. His name is Amen-Nestawy-Nakt, and he lived in 900 B.C. He was a priest at the Temple of Karnak and must have done a good job to merit such a fancy mummy case.

Perhaps you'd like to celebrate mummies too. A great way to do it would be to explore a few books on the topic. There are a great many good ones out there at your school or public library or your local bookstore.

Here are a few I found:

This is a Level 4 reader that presents mummies from around the world.

Ten of the creepiest mummies and information on how the whole mummification process works.

Another Magic Treehouse Mystery--this one finds Jack and Annie in Ancient Egypt encountering lots of adventures.

Who knew mummies and math go together? Well, it seems very beneficial to know division in order to embalm a mummy. Find out how it all works with this math challenge story from iMath Readers.

Hope you find someMUMMY special to hang out with!
Happy reading :)

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15. Día Every Day

Coming soon: on April 30, we will celebrate the culmination of Día. But did you know that Día doesn’t end there? It’s the beginning of a new year of Book Joy, emphasizing the importance of literacy for all children from all backgrounds, and in all languages.

viva frida

Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales. Image from http://us.macmillan.com/vivafrida/YuyiMorales.

How can you keep Día in your heart, and your work, every day? Commit to including a book, song, or rhyme from or about another place in every storytime. Creating a book display? Include diverse books on the theme, but then add translated editions of those titles; kids and adults need to know that their favorite reads are available in their first language. Visiting a site with your bookmobile? Check your stock for titles published in the languages spoken in the community before you depart. By demonstrating how easily all people can be represented, we encourage our peers, families, teachers, and caregivers to do the same.


Crossover by Kwame Alexander. Image from http://www.bookinaday.org/.

But where to find materials? So many resources are generated within our profession and beyond:

  • Check out the resources on the Día website at dia.ala.org, especially the recently-created “Building STEAM with Día” booklists.
  • Not ready to start a Día Family Book Club? Use the curriculum to guide discussion in any setting.
  • Need more? Bookmark the ALSC Book & Media Awards page and utilize the links to lists of vetted, quality titles and authors for kids from all backgrounds.
  • Look beyond libraryland: a quick web search leads to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, which hosts a fantastic guide to booklists celebrating everybody!
  • Finally, talk to your peers! Share books at every opportunity. Make yourself familiar with your collection, pick favorite authors, and then include them in your programming, readers’ advisory interactions, school visits, and summer reading presentations.

Stay conscious of the need to represent the world to your families. With enough repetition, we’ll build a tolerant, inclusive, well-read, and better-educated community in which everyone is reflected in books. Keep Día in your heart and mind every day!


This post was written by Robin J. Howe, MLIS, Children’s Librarian with the King County Library System for the Public Awareness Committee. Reach Robin at rhowe@kcls.org.

The post Día Every Day appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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16. Dreams Do Come True

In the world of children’s literature, I can’t think of a day that hasn’t been better than the one before it. On Monday morning, February 2nd, this theory proved true. Diversity in children’s literature was honored in a multitude of ways. Librarians, families, teachers and kids all awaited the Monday morning Youth Media Award announcements with anticipation. They waited to hear if their favorite girl would win an award in more than one category, if their favorite author would garner the top prize, if the book that reflected their lives and spoke to them would stand tall and proud amongst the best of the best. As the medal winners’ names were spoken, dreams were coming true all across the country.

Each day that you have an opportunity to talk about diversity in children’s literature is a day when you are making the world more welcoming and real for all children. Literature awards can spark all kinds of conversations about why we need diverse books. (#WeNeedDiverseBooks).

The news spread far and wide like fire on a prairie (or snow headed for Chicago). Those announcements, though, were just a smattering of the literature awards that will be given this year. Also announced at the American Library Association’s Midwinter conference were the winners of the The Asian Pacific American Library Association (APALA) literature awards. These include a winner and honor book in children’s, young adult, and picture book categories.

The Asian Pacific American Library Association was established in 1980 to create an organization that would address the needs of Asian Pacific American librarians and those who serve Asian Pacific American communities. Since 2001 they have been honoring the best books published in the previous year for children and young adults related to Asian/Pacific American experiences (either historical or contemporary) or Asian/Pacific American cultures.

The APALA winners are announced during the midwinter meeting, but there is no fanfare until the annual ALA conference awards ceremony. And so, while we were all shouting “hooray” for the likes of Jacqueline Woodson, Kwame Alexander, Duncan Tonatiuh and others……..even more dreams were quietly coming true.

2015 Winners:Tiger Girl
Young Adult

Winner: Tiger Girl by May-Lee Chai (GemmaMedia)

Honor: Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang (First Second), illustration by Sonny Liew.


Winner: Gaijin: American Prisoner of War by Matt FGaiginaulkner (Disney/Hyperion Books)

Honor: Ting Ting by Kristie Hammond (Sono Nis Press, Canada)

Picture Book

Winner: Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegaki and Qin Leng (Kids Can Press)

Hana Hashimoto


Honor: Father’s Chinese Opera by Rich Lo (Sky Pony Press)






Andrea R. Milano is a Youth Services Librarian at Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon and she is writing this post on behalf of the Public Awareness Committee.

The post Dreams Do Come True appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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17. Living in my Illustrations


Being an illustrator is great fun.  Why?  Because you can use your imagination to go places you’ve never been and do things you’ve never done. For instance, I have always wanted a log cabin up in the mountains.  As a teen, I used to imagine having a studio up a flight of wooden steps to a big room. It would have rafter ceilings and a window seat for me to look out of.  It would be warm and cozy and I could sit and do my art all day long near a roaring fire in the wood stove.

When I began thinking of places for my character Burl the bear to live in, I made it just like “I” wanted it!  Warm and inviting!  When you walk through the doorway of my story, you will find a home that lives in my imagination. It will be a place that I love and I will revisit it many times as the story progresses. I must be passionate about what I draw or it becomes listless and boring. This process is what makes a story believable.

My experience tells me that children notice the tiniest of details.  I did a school visit after Peepsqueak was published by Harper Collins Publisher.  I read the book to the children and then we talked.  Through out the story there was another story going on in the book. It was a little tiny mouse who appeared on many of the pages.  The children did not miss it. They even commented on the mouse as I read to them.  I let them in on a little secret.  I named the mouse Elliot.  When I told them his name they all squealed with delight and pointed to the cutest little boy in their classroom who was named Elliot!   He was beaming.  Suddenly he became part of the story. He was so happy!

These are the things that make a story magical in the eyes of children and adults alike.  Its also why I continue creating images.  I love seeing characters develop.   I love finding their voices. .. what they are like… what they like to do.  It does not stop when I leave the studio.  I think about them all the time, until I finally know how they would react in any given situation. That way they become very believable creations and loved by all.

Stay posted,  Burl and Briley are growing on my heart daily.  I can hardly wait to illustrate the books that are in my mind!

Filed under: how to write, My Characters

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18. Bechtel Fellowship: Professional Experience of a Lifetime

The Bechtel Library

The Bechtel Library (image provided by Mary Gaither Marshall)

Little did I realize when arriving at the Gainesville Airport the evening of January 31, 2007, that the next month would be the highlight of my professional career. In 2005, as I was glancing through my most recent issue of Children and Libraries, I noticed Leslie Barban’s article, “Evolution of Children’s Literature Getting Sidetracked—Delightfully—at the Baldwin Library.” As I read the article, I thought, if only I could have that same experience. Before becoming a children’s librarian, I had worked for six years in rare book shops, so having the opportunity to research and read about children’s books would be a dream experience for me. In 2005, when both of my children were in college, I decided to apply for the 2006 Bechtel Fellowship. As part of the application, I needed to decide on a topic. The most difficult part of the process was determining which area of the collection to focus on. I decided to examine the papers of the founder of the collection, Ruth Baldwin. How did a librarian of modest means, form one of the greatest collection of children’s literature in the world? I sent my application in thinking that I would probably have to apply several times before I would receive the fellowship.

Mary Gaither Marshall in the Closed Stacks

Mary in the Closed Stacks (photo courtesy of Mary Gaither Marshall)

In January 2006, I received a phone call at work from the ALA office. My first thought was that they were calling about my membership. I was shocked when the caller congratulated me on receiving the 2006 Bechtel Fellowship. After the call, I was bursting with excitement and couldn’t wait to tell my staff and director, and really, anyone who walked in the library, that I was going to spend a month reading children’s books and examining Ruth Baldwin’s letters and diaries at the University of Florida. Yes, I’m definitely a rare book geek.

Fortunately, my director at the Addison Public Library (Illinois), Mary Medjo MeZengue, was very supportive of my taking a month off from my usual responsibilities, to complete my Fellowship. We had just begun a new building project, so we carefully planned the best time for me to go to the Baldwin Library. We decided February 2007 would be the time when I was least needed for decisions. So I made arrangements with Rita Smith, then curator of the Baldwin, to spend the month. She placed me in contact with past Bechtel Fellowship winners and helped me to make local arrangements. I spent the month in a delightful cottage at the Sweetwater Bed and Breakfast about two miles from the campus. Each morning I would walk to the library and spend the day immersed in books, letters, diaries, and other papers. On the first day, Rita gave me a tour of the library and a one time only view of the closed stacks. After that, I had to request each item which was then brought to me. I was also able to interview Rita and several other faculty members who had known Ruth Baldwin. I would work steadily until the library closed at six. During the evenings and weekends, I would review my research and make plans for what I wanted to review the next day. I also read and responded to my work email and did collection development. I was amazed at how much of my work I was able to complete without every day distractions.

Mary with the Egolf Display

Mary with the Egolf Display (photo courtesy of Mary Gaither Marshall)

During the last week of my fellowship in 2007, a new addition of 2,800 illustrated American children’s books, dating from 1807-2003, formed and donated by Dr. Robert L. Egolf, arrived at the Baldwin Library. Because of my experience working with rare books, Rita gave me the opportunity to explore the boxes of books. Those of us in the Baldwin Library the day Dr. Egolf’s collection arrived, surely felt the same excitement that the University of Florida’s Smather’s Library staff felt almost 30 years before when Ruth Baldwin brought her magnificent collection to the University of Florida. On my last day at the Baldwin Library, I assisted Rita Smith in creating a display for the reception honoring Dr. Egolf’s donation.

Perhaps in the future, I will have the opportunity to return to the Baldwin and research these new additions to the Baldwin Library.

I encourage all of you who have the opportunity, to apply for the Louise Seaman Bechtel Fellowship. You too can receive $4,000 to spend a month reading and researching children’s books. The deadline is Saturday, November 1, 2014. Apply today!


Our guest blogger today is Mary Gaither Marshall. Mary is Assistant Director/Head of Children’s Services at the Addison Public Library.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.


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19. Diversity – What does it mean for writers and young readers?

I’m thrilled to be back blogging after a stellar three-month summer hiatus. I completed the first draft to my contemporary YA, which is my MFA thesis. I attended a superb writer’s craft conference for the benefit of the non-profit Sierra … Continue reading

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20. Illustrator Interview – Kathryn Ault Noble

I’m back with another Wednesday series of interviews with published and unpublished illustrators whose work I admire. So prepare to be wowed by the skill and fascinated by their process and passions as we get a glimpse into their lives … Continue reading

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21. Join me this Saturday

Henry & The Buccaneer Bunnies

If you’ll be around Pittsburgh Saturday, September 13, please stop by the old Salty Carrot shipwreck pavilion (the big blue slide) in Frick Park. I’ll be part of Alphabet Trail and Tales from 10:00 – 1:00, reading & painting and telling horrible pirate jokes.

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22. Secret Doors and Other Wonders

One of the commenters following Mac Barnett’s Ted Talk “Why a good book is a secret door” quoted Antoine de Saint-Exupéry from The Little Prince: “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.” The essence of this statement is a perfect way […]

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23. Deadline for Bechtel, Hayes, & Baker & Taylor is Nov. 1

ALSC is reminding members to apply for professional awards this fall. Applications are open and several deadlines are approaching. Below is list of ALSC professional awards which are available for submission or nomination.  Please consider applying or nominating a colleague:

Louise Seaman Bechtel Fellowship
Deadline: Extended to Saturday, November 1, 2014

This fellowship provides a $4,000 stipend to allow a qualified children’s librarian to spend a month or more reading at the University of Florida’s Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature.

Maureen Hayes Author/Illustrator Award
Deadline: Saturday, November 1, 2014

This $4,000 award was established with funding from Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, in honor of Maureen Hayes, to bring together children and nationally recognized authors/illustrators.

ALSC/Baker & Taylor Summer Reading Grant
Deadline: Saturday, November 1, 2014

This $3,000 grant provides financial assistance to a public library for developing an outstanding summer reading program for children.

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24. Once upon a time, part 1

I’m writing from Palermo where I’ve been teaching a course on the legacy of Troy. Myths and fairy tales lie on all sides in this old island. It’s a landscape of stories and the past here runs a live wire into the present day. Within the same hour, I saw an amulet from Egypt from nearly 3000 years ago, and passed a young, passionate balladeer giving full voice in the street to a ballad about a young woman – la baronessa Laura di Carini – who was killed by her father in 1538. He and her husband had come upon her alone with a man whom they suspected to be her lover. As she fell under her father’s stabbing, she clung to the wall, and her hand made a bloody print that can still be seen in the castle at Carini – or so I was told. The cantastorie – the ballad singer – was giving the song his all. He was sincere and funny at the same time as he knelt and frowned, mimed and lamented.

The eye of Horus, or Wadjet, was found in a Carthaginian’s grave in the city and it is still painted on the prows of fishing boats, and worn as a charm all over the Mediterranean and the Middle East, in order to ward off dangers. This function is, I believe, one of the deepest reasons for telling stories in general, and fairy tales in particular: the fantasy of hope conjures an antidote to the pain the plots remember. The street singer was young, curly haired, and had spent some time in Liverpool, he told me later, but he was back home now, and his song was raising money for a street theatre called Ditirammu (dialect for Dithryamb), that performs on a tiny stage in the stables of an ]old palazzo in the district called the Kalsa. Using a mixture of puppetry, song, dance, and mime, the troupe give local saints’ legends, traditional tales of crusader paladins versus dastardly Moors, and pastiches of Pinocchio, Snow White, and Alice in Wonderland.

A balladeer in Palermo. Photograph taken by Marina Warner. Do not use without permission.

Their work captures the way fairy tales spread through different media and can be played, danced or painted and still remain recognisable: there are individual stories which keep shape-shifting across time, and there is also a fairytale quality which suffuses different forms of expression (even recent fashion designs have drawn on fairytale imagery and motifs). The Palermo theatre’s repertoire also reveals the kinship between some history and fairy tale: the hard facts enclosed and memorialised in the stories. Although the happy ending is a distinguishing feature of fairy tales, many of them remember the way things were – Bluebeard testifies to the kinds of marriages that killed Laura di Carini.

A few days after coming across the cantastorie in the street, I was taken to see the country villa on the crest of Capo d’Orlando overlooking the sea, where Casimiro Piccolo lived with his brother and sister. The Piccolo siblings were rich Sicilian landowners, peculiar survivals of a mixture of luxurious feudalism and austere monasticism. A dilettante and dabbler in the occult, Casimiro believed in fairies. He went out to see them at twilight, the hour recommended by experts such as William Blake, who reported he had seen a fairy funeral, and the Revd. Robert Kirk, who had the information on good authority from his parishioners in the Highlands, where fairy abductions, second sight, and changelings were a regular occurrence in the seventeenth century.

The Eye of Horus, By Marie-Lan Nguyen, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Casimiro’s elder brother, Lucio, a poet who had a brief flash of fame in the Fifties, was as solitary, odd-looking, and idiosyncratic as himself, and the siblings lived alone with their twenty servants, in the midst of a park with rare shrubs and cacti from all over the world, their beautiful summer villa filled with a vast library of science, art, and literature, and marvellous things. They slept in beds as narrow as a discalced Carmelite’s, and never married. They loved their dogs, and gave them names that are mostly monosyllables, often sort of orientalised in a troubling way. They range from ‘Aladdin’ to ‘Mameluk’ to ‘Book’ and the brothers built them a cemetery of their own in the garden.

Casimiro was a follower of Paracelsus, who had distinguished the elemental beings as animating matter: gnomes, undines, sylphs and salamanders. Salamanders, in the form of darting, wriggling lizards, are plentiful on the baked stones of the south, but the others are the cousins of imps and elves, sprites and sirens, and they’re not so common. The journal Psychic News, to which Casimiro subscribed, inspired him to try to take photographs of the apparitions he saw in the park of exotic plants around the house. He also ordered various publications of the Society of Psychical Research and other bodies who tried to tap immaterial presences and energies. He was hoping for images like the famous Cottingley images of fairies sunbathing or dancing which Conan Doyle so admired. But he had no success. Instead, he painted: a fairy punt poled by a hobgoblin through the lily pads, a fairy doctor with a bag full of shining golden instruments taking the pulse of a turkey, four old gnomes consulting a huge grimoire held up by imps, etiolated genies, turbaned potentates, and eastern sages. He rarely left Sicily, or indeed, his family home, and he went on painting his sightings in soft, rich watercolour from 1943 to 1970 when he died.

Photograph by Marina Warner. Do not use without permission.

His work looks like Victorian or Edwardian fairy paintings. Had this reclusive Sicilian seen the crazed visions of Richard Dadd, or illustrations by Arthur Rackham or John Anster Fitzgerald? Or even Disney? Disney was looking very carefully at picture books when he formed the famous characters and stamped them with his own jokiness. Casimiro doesn’t seem to be in earnest, and the long-nosed dwarfs look a little bit like self-mockery. It is impossible to know what he meant, if he meant what he said, or what he believed. But the fact remains, for a grown man to believe in fairies strikes us now as pretty silly.

The Piccolo family’s cousin, close friend and regular visitor was Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, the author of The Leopard, and he wrote a mysterious and memorable short story about a classics professor who once spent a passionate summer with a mermaid. But tales of fairies, goblins, and gnomes seem to belong to an altogether different degree of absurdity from a classics professor meeting a siren.

And yet, the Piccolo brothers communicated with Yeats, who held all kinds of beliefs. He smelted his wonderful poems from a chaotic rubble of fairy lore, psychic theories, dream interpretation, divinatory methods, and Christian symbolism: “Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.”

Featured image credit: Capo d’Orlando, by Chtamina. CC-BY-SA-2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

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25. Once upon a time, part 2

There is a quarrel inside me about fairies, and the form of literature their presence helps to define. I have never tried to see a fairy, or at least not since I was five years old. The interest of Casimiro Piccolo reveals how attitudes to folklore belong to their time: he was affected by the scientific inquiry into the paranormal which flourished – in highly intellectual circles – from the late nineteenth century and into the twentieth. But he also presents a test case, I feel, for the questions that hang around fairies and fairy tales in the twenty-first century. What is the point of them? What are the uses of such enchantments today? The absurdity of this form of magical belief (religious miracles are felt to be different, and not only by believers) creates a quarrel inside me, about the worth of this form of literature and entertainment I enjoy so much. In what way am I ‘away with the fairies’, too?

Butterfly fairy
This watercolor is part of the collection owned by the Family Piccolo of Calanovella Foundation, created by Baron Casimiro Piccolo of Calanovell, www.fondazionepiccolo.it. All rights reserved. Used with their permission.

Suspicion now hangs around fairy tales because the kind of supernatural creatures and events they include belong to a belief system nobody subscribes to anymore. Even children, unless very small, are in on the secret that fairyland is a fantasy. In the past, however, allusions to fairies could be dangerous not because belief in them was scorned, but because they were feared: Kirk collected the beliefs of his flock in order to defend them against charges of heterodoxy or witchcraft, and, the same time as Kirk’s ethnographical activities, Charles Perrault published his crucially influential collection (l697), in which he pokes fun, with suave courtly wit, at the dangerousness of witches and witchcraft, ogres and talking animals. Perrault is slippery and ambiguous. His Cinderella is a tale of marvellously efficacious magic, but he ends with a moral: recommending his readers to find themselves well-placed godmothers. Not long before he was writing his fairy tales, France and other places in Europe had seen many people condemned to death on suspicion of using magic. The fairy tale emerges as entertainment in a proto-enlightenment move to show that there is nothing to fear.

The current state of fairy tale – whether metastasized in huge blockbuster films or refreshed and re-invigorated in the fiction of Robert Coover, Donald Barthelme, Margaret Atwood or, most recently, Helen Oyeyemi (Mr Fox, and, this year, Boy Snow Bird) does not invite, let alone compel, belief in its magic elements as from an audience of adepts or faithful. Contemporary readers and audiences, including children over the age of 6, are too savvy about special effects and plot lines and the science/magic overlap to accept supernatural causes behind Angelina Jolie’s soaring in Maleficent or the transmogrifications of the characters. Nor do they, nor do we need to suspend disbelief in the willed way Coleridge described.

Rather the ways of approaching the old material – Blue Beard, The Robber Bridegroom, Hansel & Gretel, Snow White and so on – opens up the stories to new meanings. The familiar narrative becomes the arena for raising questions; the story’s well known features provide a common language for thinking about families and love, childhood and marriage. Fairies and their realm allow thought experiments about alternative arrangements in this world. We are no longer looking for fairies at the bottom of the garden, but seeing through them to glimpse other things. As the little girl realises in The Servant’s Tale by Paula Fox, her grandmother through her stories ‘saw what others couldn’t see, that for her the meaning of one thing could also be the meaning of a greater thing.’ In the past, these other, greater things were most often promises – escape, revenge, recognition, glory – but the trend of fairy tales is turning darker, and many retellings no longer hold out such bright eyed hope.

Featured image credit: Sleeping Beauty, by Viktor M. Vasnetsov. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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